Bill Shanks

Flowers’ surge helping Braves offense

Tyler Flowers (25) is making the most of his second stint with Atlanta.
Tyler Flowers (25) is making the most of his second stint with Atlanta. AP

If someone had told you in March one of the best stories for the Atlanta Braves through the first quarter of the season would be Tyler Flowers, you might have thought they were nuts. Or you might have thought the Braves were in a lot of trouble.

Well, they’re not. The Braves are doing OK considering the crazy schedule early on and the issues they’ve had with the aging starting rotation.

And yet a hometown boy is getting lost in the shuffle as one of the more valuable players on this team.

Flowers is from Roswell, just a stone’s throw from SunTrust Park. The Braves drafted him out of a junior college in 2004, and then four years later traded him to the White Sox in the Javier Vazquez trade.

For parts of seven seasons, Flowers was a serviceable catcher in Chicago. He split time most seasons with A.J. Pierzynski, who ironically was with the Braves last year when Flowers came back home.

Flowers was known as a solid hitter in the minors with the Braves, but when he got to the White Sox, he struggled at the plate. Flowers hit only .223 with a .289 on-base percentage in Chicago.

He’s been unbelievably better since rejoining the Braves. Flowers has hit .292 with an on-base percentage of .386 in his season-and-a-quarter in Atlanta.

How can a player be that much better with one team than he was with another? Flowers recently attributed his improvement to the addition of a leg kick in his batting stance. But that much better — a 69-point improvement in batting average and a 97-point upward swing in OBP?

That’s incredible. It’s almost like the antithesis of what we saw with Dan Uggla and Melvin Upton. I know we’ve tried to forget them, but it’s worth remembering to see how great Flowers’ turnaround has been in contrast.

Uggla had a .263 batting average and a .349 OBP in his five seasons with the Marlins. Then he came to Atlanta and couldn’t hit. Uggla hit just .209 with a .317 OBP in four seasons with the Braves.

Upton was even worse. He had a .255 batting average and a .336 OBP in eight seasons in Tampa Bay. Then with the Braves, Upton hit just .198 and had a .279 OBP — a 57-point downward swing in both categories.

It was hard to find examples a few years ago to compare Uggla and Upton to any other player who was decent with one team and then fell apart with his next club. And now, try to find a player like Flowers who has had that sort of improvement after going from his initial team to his second organization, especially one over the age of 30.

Flowers and Kurt Suzuki have been tremendous as a duo at catcher for the Braves. Entering Monday’s game, the pair led the majors at catcher with a .412 OBP, and the .300 combined batting average was second-best in the big leagues.

Flowers’ defense has been solid, as well. After throwing out just five percent of would-be base-stealers last season, Flowers has thrown out 32% this season. He’s also great with the young pitchers, which was the main reason the Braves signed him before last season.

They may not be Javy Lopez and Brian McCann, but Flowers and Suzuki have been getting the job done. Flowers’ improvement is legendary, and he’s a big reason the Atlanta offense has a chance to be dangerous the rest of the season.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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